She was the first Wild Card contestant since Clay Aiken to make the finals on American Idol, but like the season 2 alum, Jena Irene became the runner-up after Caleb Johnson claimed victory.

Jena talked with reporters, including BuddyTV, about her original music, singing “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” why she changed her last name, performing with Paramore and why she’s going to prom with Caleb. Also, how come Jena chose to perform first during the finals when she won the coin toss? She explained what really happened, so read on to find out.

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How Many Songs Has Jena Written?

Jena, Alex Preston and Jessica Meuse all performed original songs at some point during the season, with Jena singing “Unbreakable Me” during Rush Week. When I asked her how many songs she’s written and if she has enough for a full album, she replied, “I do have enough for the full album, but I don’t know if all of them are going to make it onto an album. Throughout my whole life, I’ve probably written like 75 songs — and they’re not all good, don’t get me wrong. But I’m excited even if one or two of them gets on the album; that’s all I’m hoping for. And if I get input in the other songs on my album, that’s amazing too.”

But before she works on an album, there’s the summer tour to look forward to. And she hope she can perform her original on the road, “Because ‘Unbreakable Me’ was definitely a big part of my journey on Idol, and they definitely showed that song more than once on the show. … It’s one of my favorite songs that I have written, and I think a lot of other people like it too. So hopefully they’ll let me.”

Jena also found that writing songs has really helped her through some tough times, including the divorce of her parents. “That was a hard time in my life, and getting through that — rather than going to therapy and coping with it [that way] — my coping was writing. And I actually wrote some pretty good songs out of it. So I think it was kind of a blessing in disguise. Even though there is heartache and there are separations and bad times and low points in your life, you can write some really amazing stuff about it and get really inspired.”

She admits, though, that she doesn’t fully know what her album will sound like because “I’m still trying to figure out who I am, and my music has been evolving for the past three years.” But she’s ready for the process to begin and can’t wait to see what her fans think of her album. 

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Fans “Can’t Help Falling in Love” with Jena

Many viewers and fans consider Jena’s rendition of Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling in Love” to be the best performance of the season. I asked her why she chose that song, and she said that she’s “been playing that song for like two years, even before [Idol]. And I remember playing it for the first time in my basement to my mom, and she cried for the first time in a while. I think that’s how I knew it was powerful. But I didn’t know if it was just because she was my mom, so when I heard that the theme was love songs, that song was on the list. So I’m like, you know what? Why don’t I just do it?”

Then when it came time to work with the band on the arrangement and performance, she stuck to her vision and it obviously paid off. “The band actually wanted to play it with me, and I actually said, ‘No, I just want to do it on piano.’ So it was definitely a risk, but I’m glad it was taken positively.”

From Jena Asciutto to Jena Irene

When Jena auditioned for Idol, she went by the name of Jena Asciutto. But once the live shows began, she was Jena Irene. She revealed the story behind the name change: “Production started calling me by Jena Irene on accident. And I kept correcting them and saying it’s actually Asciutto. But it kind of just stuck, and they kept saying Irene.”

But there is a personal meaning to the name as well. “Irene — I was named after my grandma that actually passed away even before I was born, so I never got to meet her. But everyone says that she was the coolest lady known to man. So I kept it. And I think she’s definitely looking down on me right now and I hope she’s proud.”

The Coin Toss: Why Did Jena Perform First?

Following the Top 3 results show, there was the usual coin toss off-air to determine who would perform first and second during the final performance show. Jena won the coin toss, but decided to go first. A lot of fans were wondering why she made that choice, but now we’ve got the answer.

“To be completely honest … I wasn’t really listening when they were explaining it,” she admitted. “I thought it was just for going first for the performance for the Academy members because we did perform after the Top 2 were announced that night, just for Emmy voters. So I went first for that, and I just thought it was for that. And then later on in the week, I figured out I was opening the show for the finale.”

After realizing what the coin toss was really for, did she regret not going second? “I actually wasn’t upset about it, just because to open the show and to start strong, it really didn’t matter to me,” she said. “There’s two people left, and I don’t think it hurt my chances. I think that people were going to vote [for] who they were going to vote for, regardless of how me and Caleb did throughout the competition.” 

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Performing with Paramore

When Jena performed songs by the likes of Paramore and Evanescence, she started to really come into her own as an artist and find her musical style. So it was obviously a thrill to be able to perform with Paramore at the finale. “I was freaking out the whole time,” she admitted. “It was such an honor to share the stage with [Hayley Williams]; she is such an inspiration to me. I’ve been listening to that band since I was 12 years old. So to share the stage, it was definitely a dream come true.”

But when asked if she was more excited about performing an original on Idol or singing with Paramore, she went with the latter. “I loved performing my original music on the show, but sharing the stage with Paramore was something that I have literally dreamed about my whole life. And to even rehearse with them and talk to Hayley, she’s just such a down-to-earth person.”

Going to Prom with Caleb

In April, we saw Jena ask Caleb to her high school prom. But was she really serious? Jena admits that it started out as a joke, but “as we got closer to the finale, I was like, ‘Wait, I actually don’t have a date, and I’m planning on going.’ [Caleb’s] like, ‘Well, we’re going, right?’ And he was serious the whole time.” Jena’s excited about the event and says, “It’s going to be really interesting.”

This shows how close the two singers have become over the course of season 13. “Talking to some people on the production team that have been doing this for the past 12 years, they haven’t seen as good of a connection as me and Caleb have, and for that I’m so grateful, just because the stress was definitely taken down a couple notches.” She considers him to be her best friend — “You don’t get to experience something like this with everyone in the world.” 


(Image courtesy of FOX)

Jeff Dodge

Staff Writer, BuddyTV

Jeff Dodge, a graduate of Western Washington University, has been a TV news editor for many years and has had the chance to interview multiple reality show stars, including Randy Jackson, Nick Cannon, Heidi Klum, Mel B and John Cena.